Kelle Barfield is Entergy Corporation vice president of integrated communications. In addition to overseeing communication in support of the company’s sustainability initiatives, her team is responsible for corporate branding, advertising, digital media, internal communications and corporate event planning. Barfield began her Entergy career at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in 1986. She received a master of science degree in communications management from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She is also a graduate of Leadership Mississippi, a program of the Mississippi Economic Development Council.
Christopher Skroupa: What are some key benefits of a company combining its annual report to shareholders and sustainability report into a single integrated report?
Kelle Barfield: A single record connecting components of strategy and outcomes is a primary benefit of integrated reporting, as we found. Entergy has long held a philosophy that strengthening business performance for one stakeholder group benefits the others. For example, high poverty rates in our utility region make our low-income customer initiatives a vital aspect of healthy communities. But enabling customers to improve their household budgets also reduces our residential write-offs and improves our overall regulatory environment, both which improve our financial performance. So integrating annual reporting of performance and business strategy in a way that demonstrates this link between doing good and doing well is a natural step in corporate accountability. Practically speaking, the many staff members managing and supporting production of our previous reports are the same, which is likely true of most companies. Data collection, results assimilation and content review as part of a single reporting initiative proves far more efficient via integrated reporting.
Skroupa: What are some barriers that might come up while convincing senior management to make the transition to preparing integrated reports?
Barfield: In our case, Entergy’s mission of providing sustainable value for all stakeholders provided the perfect platform to begin discussions of integrated reporting in 2013 with senior management. Not all companies may intuitively see the connectivity of information across their various corporate reports. Our business case contained several elements in addition to project management efficiency. Entergy’s corporate objective of providing clarity around our business strategy would be supported by integrated reporting; the business rationale for environmental and social initiatives is more meaningful. The move coincided with our evolution from a printed report to a primary web-based platform for reporting. Similarly, transition of communication platforms may provide momentum for other corporations. Integrated reporting also enhances efforts related to Dow Jones Sustainability Index response and other external analyses of a business. These and other factors support a move toward integrated reporting being met with support from senior executives.
Skroupa: What are common main objectives companies may set out for their integrated report to achieve, and how do they differ from those your company set?
Barfield: Primarily, the goal of integrated reporting is accountability to stakeholders of the past year’s performance against business plans. But it is also important that our report segues to the evolution of our strategy in the current year. The integrated report is a snapshot along a journey but it provides direction toward current goals, such as where Entergy is headed on our business transformation roadmap. We also want to make the report interesting enough that it compels readers to come back and read more, a goal we continue to advance in preparing our 2014 report, which is wrapping up. This is an exciting era for industrial growth in the Gulf South and a time of transformation in energy markets also affecting our merchant generation business in the north. As with other companies, we want our integrated report to capture how we are effectively managing these opportunities and challenges such that investors, employees, customers and communities can join our senior leaders in their enthusiasm for what the future holds.
Skroupa: What response did you expect to get and then receive from your stakeholders regarding this new approach, and what reactions do you think other companies may have received?
Barfield: We hoped to get feedback last year that our first integrated report was successful in showing how creating value is mutually beneficial for all our stakeholders. We aimed for greater clarity around our business strategy for our stakeholders. Response to our integrated report was especially strong from employees, both in terms of the numbers reviewing the online report as well as feedback. This group remains a focal point for awareness of the integrated report in our 2015 post-production communication plans. But we hope our efforts to create an even more engaging report this year will help make Entergy’s vision and transformation roadmap clearer and more compelling for investors, customers and community partners as well. Other companies committed to demonstrating sustainable business practices through an integrated report would likely aspire to similar results.
Skroupa: What organizations generally oversee the process of creating the integrated report?
Barfield: Our benchmarking tells us that many companies have sustainability leaders working closely with public relations or corporate communications groups in the creation of stakeholder reporting, whether a sustainability report or the more holistic integrated report. Finance partners typically lead development of economic data. In our case, investor relations and corporate communications coordinate a comprehensive team of subject experts from every facet of our business to develop our integrated report. Finance, human resources, environmental and corporate social responsibility departments clearly own substantial portions of business initiatives and performance proof points. But these are just a few of the several dozen employees of business groups who contribute to and review the report in order to ensure its accuracy and completeness. We believe the report is strongest when it is integrated not only in terms of its scope but also with regard to ownership of the final product.
On April 23rd, 2015, Skytop Strategies will present, “Integrated Reporting: Breakthrough to Best-of-Breed Corporate Reporting,” hosted at Edelman’s Chicago Office in Chicago, IL. The event is the second roundtable in a series of four taking place in Chicago. Continue the discussion with Kelle Barfield and 60 institutional shareholders and company executives at this half-day interactive roundtable engagement. To inquire about attending, contact Chris Pulliam at firstname.lastname@example.org.